All You Need is Faith and Trust… And a Rally Chicken

Baseball is nothing if not a superstitious sport. Whether its a player wearing certain clothing after he’s started a hitting streak or a team relying on a good luck charm to break a slump, the idea that good fortune comes from something outside the realm of talent is a notion that has been with baseball for ages.

The Indians are no stranger to superstitions and good luck charms, as they’ve used various forms of good luck throughout their years, especially during playoff pushes.

In 1997, during one of the Indians most recent stints in the playoff race, the team relied on high socks as a form of good luck. Inspired by slugger Jim Thome, the Indians collectively wore high socks for the first time on Thome’s birthday on August 27, 1997. They went on to win nine of their next 11 games and eventually reach the World Series.

The Indians brought back the high socks in 2011 when Thome returned to the team, originally only planning to wear the socks up on his birthday. However, Joe Smith believed in the power of the socks and persuaded his teammates to wear the sock high right off the bat from Thome’s first game back with the Tribe.

Thome himself seemed to believe in the power of the socks, as he is quoted in a story on MLB.com saying that it was nice to wear the socks again.

“It was similar to ’97,” Thome said in the story published on August 26, 2011. “And everyone knows we went to the World Series that year. So, we’ll see what happens.”

Clothing has long been a vital part of superstition, as this season has also demonstrated. During their six-game win streak in May, the Indians repeatedly wore their blue uniforms, not switching to a different jersey until they lost. Once the winning streak was snapped, however, the team switched back to rotating between the various road and home jerseys, working to find another pattern that would work.

However, the good luck did not come in the form of a jersey, but rather in the form of a chicken. The rally chicken, to be exact.

It is joked about in the movie “Major League” that a live chicken should be sacrificed to end Pedro Cerrano’s slump, though the team provides him with fried chicken instead. Earlier in September, the Indians took it a step farther when Justin Masterson brought a live chicken to the field for Cody Allen, who had been nicknamed “Chicken Al” during spring training. However, the chicken did more than simply boost morale and create a few laughs, as the Indians scored four runs in the first inning and beat the Orioles that night, and have won eight out of 12 games since the rally chicken appeared prior to the game on September 17.

The animal kingdom has been a friend the Indians for quite some time, as midges proved vital in Game 2 of the ALDS in 2007. With bugs distracting Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain, the Indians defeated the Yankees 2-1 in 11 innings. Seagulls were also on the Indians side in June of 2009 during a game against Kansas City, becoming Cleveland’s very own angels in the outfield. A seagull deflected a hit from Shin-Soo Choo to center field, which allowed Mark DeRosa to score and the Indians to win 4-3.

Along with clothes and animals, actions and trends have been apparent in the repertoire of Indians traditions and superstitions.

The 2007 Indians had Rally Pies, a trend developed by Trot Nixon who would pie a star player in the face after an especially good game – most frequently, after a walk-off win. The trend became so frequent in the 2007 season that rally pies became a heavily acknowledged gimmick, with graphics on the scoreboard and anticipation building for the next individual to be pied, as it became as much a trend within the ballpark for fans as it did for players. Although the Indians lost the 2007 ALCS to the Red Sox, the idea of the Rally Pie brought excitement to fans and players alike through the stretch of success.

Above all with the Indians, however, are the negative superstitions and the curses surrounding the team. Just as good things can boost confidence, negative actions can bring a team – and it’s fan base – to the brink of destruction. When Frank Lane traded Rocky Colavito in 1960 to the Detroit Tigers for Harvey Kuenn, a curse allegedly settled on Cleveland, as dismal decades of baseball followed the trade of the young power hitter who should have spent his entire career in a Cleveland uniform. What else could explain going so long without a World Series title? The Red Sox had the Curse of the Bambino, Cleveland has the Curse of Rocky Colavito.

Maybe that’s why Clevelanders are so prone to adopt excitement over things like the rally chicken and high socks – if you’ve grown up in a city that blames its poor baseball track record on sports, what other way can things be remedied than with something equally as superstitious?

It’s like when you were a kid and wore your pajamas inside out and backwards in hopes of a snow day – even though you knew snow days were impossible to come by in Cleveland. We’ve grown up believing that our minds can control the world and, in this case, the game. Mind over matter.

Perhaps that’s why baseball players are so superstitious. Perhaps that’s why you can’t talk to the pitcher while a no-hitter is in progress. Because maybe all a player needs is to believe that something is true. If he believes that high socks or Spandex sliders will allow him to hit home runs, maybe that’s the boost of confidence he needs to excel on the field.

Can we break the Curse of Rocky Colavito this season? Who knows, but it will sure be fun to try. All I know for sure is, “Clucktober” has a nice ring to it. And if the rally chicken can build it, we all will come, socks high and pies in hand.

Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer

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